The Power & The Glory

Ben Nevis from Spean Bridge, near Fort William © John MacPherson

Ben Nevis from Spean Bridge, near Fort William © John MacPherson


“There’s a guy from the electricity company in the hall looking for you.” said the secretary at my work, as outside the wind howled like a banshee, hurling the rain horizontally against the window, and forcing it in through the window frame onto the office floor where a bucket was slowly filling. Summer in Scotland.

“Can I help you” I said to him.

“Yes, Hector MacLean says you’ve got a crossbow?”

Hector is an old family friend and was the Senior Engineer in the local Hydro Electric Company.

“No crossbow” I replied “I have a proper longbow, I teach archery”.

“Well whatever it is you’ve got, Hector wonders if you can use it to shoot an arrow across the River Spean. The flood and rain and high winds have brought down a pylon and taken out the power cables to Spean village and we need to get a line across the river and maybe you can help? The wind is so strong the helicopter can’t fly. We’re stuck.”

“Clear off and do it” said my boss, by now well used to my various unusual ‘community involvement’ activities.

And so off I went chauffeured by LandRover to my house to collect my waterproofs, bow and a box of arrows, and then to Spean Bridge, ten miles outside town.

I have seen big water in Highland rivers over the decades. I had seen nothing like this. Nothing. A roaring raging torrent was flowing, filled with leaves, branches and other debris, a plastic bin, a cattle feed box, plastic bags, and more ‘stuff’ was sailing past. And the noise of the howling gale, and the machinegun splattering of rain only added to the cacophony.

On the far bank stood an engineer. On this side, standing on a narrow bank, rapidly being undermined by the river, stood another engineer, both gaily clad in their Approved Wet Weather Safety Gear. Luminous. The guy below me produced a ball of twine. I looked at it and offered the opinion that it was too heavy to shoot across.

“We need to try” he said. So I wound it around the arrow, taped it tight, lined up and fired. The arrow flew off, the tape separated and the arrow disappeared into the river. “Oh bugger” we said in unison.

We tried again, this time more tape to make it secure. Off it went in a graceful arc. But we could see it too was doomed. As the arrow fell into the maelstrom I saw out of the corner of my eye, a tree. But what separated this tree from all the other similar trees along the riverside, giant pines and well nourished birches, was the fact it was upside down, and moving. Towards us. Gliding gaily along in the torrent it came. And before we could retrieve the arrow and line, the tree grabbed them and off it went downstream. Arrow number 2 and 50 metres of twine vanished.

“We need something lighter lads! Has anyone got any fishing line?” No, they replied.

“Ok lets go to the shop in Spean the owner is a fisherman, if they don’t sell fishing line maybe he can give us some.”

The shop was in darkness. All the power gone. There was no fishing line for sale.

“Can you perhaps give me some then please? I know you fish.” I asked the shop owner.

“No.” he said abruptly.

“Have you actually got some? I know you do fish.”

“Yes I have some” he said “but you can’t have it. Hydro Electric have lots of money. Go to town and buy your own.”

The engineers, soaked, cold and exhausted, were astonished by his attitude.

“What! I can’t believe you just said that!” I retorted. And he turned to walk away. I winked to the engineer.

“Excuse me sir, before you go can I just point something out to you?”

“What?” said the shopkeeper grumpily and impatient.

So I pointed a slow elegant-finger-point towards the long long long line of freezers, so long in fact that they lined the entire left hand side of his substantial shop: meat, veg, tv dinners, ice cream, fish fingers and more. Much much much more. Expensively much more.

“See that lot my friend. Your choice. Fishing line and power. Or………..just start throwing all of that in the bin in a large stinking wet thawing pile. And then see what your insurers say when they hear you could have saved it. But deliberately chose not to. Worth a roll of fishing line to you is it?” And I smiled. Sweetly.

With ill-grace he produced a roll of 20lb test salmon line. “Thank you sir” I said gaily.

“I want it back” he said. “Aye right, I’m sure Hydro Electric will sort something out” I said.

The power and the glory. © John MacPherson

The power and the glory. © John MacPherson




Having been saved a twenty mile round trip to town we quickly nipped back to the river. It was even higher than before. A garden shed was floating past, bobbing merrily along and vanishing around the corner.

We hastily tied the nylon to the arrow, and I wound up to launch it. The engineer held the reel of line lightly in his fingers. WHOOSH and off it went. A long lazy curve, but we could see it was not going to do it, although it had gone much much further than before. And down it plopped. And was grabbed by another large branch racing past. Arrow 3 was gone.

So we tried again. This time I got the engineer to hold the reel of fishing line on an arrow, so it would unwind as I fired. Off it went, unwinding beautifully, and unwinding and unwinding and unwinding….and continuing to unwind even after the arrow had sunk in the torrent. Leaving the engineer holding a large tangle of nylon that resembled a particularly demented pile of see-through candyfloss.

Lateral thinking was needed. “Ok engineer, hold your hands shoulder width apart, first finger up on each and I’ll wrap the nylon around them so that when I fire the arrow you can turn your two fingers in the way to let the line come off.”  And then I lined up, pulled the arrow back to the maximum draw and released, shouting “NOW!”

Off it went. His fingers moved inwards. We watched as the arrow arced perfectly across the river, the engineer whooping with delight as the gossamer tail shimmied behind it. The engineer on the far side bellowing ‘Yes! Yes! Yes” Come on you beauty!”

And then we both, at exactly the same time, realized what the engineer opposite had obviously not. That the arrow, still flying, and with a fair amount of velocity, was heading straight towards his chest.

“AAAAARRRGGH LOOK OUT” we cried, our screams tossed away on the gale.

But some sixth sense was hard at work and the engineer suddenly realized what was about to happen and with a look of terror and superhuman energy leaped sideways as the arrow whacked straight into the tree, roughly where his throat had been!

We looked upriver, to our dismay another tree was coming. No time for messing. We screamed for him to get up off the ground and just in the nick of time he was able to get the arrow, grab the nylon and run up the bank to elevate the thread so that the tree passed safely beneath. Only just.

To the nylon we tied the twine. Which was pulled across.

To the twine we tied a nylon rope. Which was pulled across.

To the rope we tied a winch hawser. Which was pulled across, narrowly avoiding another complete tree heading to the ocean.

And to the hawser we tied the power cable.

And Spean Bridge was reconnected.

Two weeks later an engineer turned up at my house with a beautifully gift-wrapped box of arrows. And note of thanks from Hydro Electric.

And they gave a roll of fishing line to the shopkeeper, and rumour has it, a wee note, deliberately overdoing the purple prose of gratitude for his gracious and most generous collaboration, in a most community-spirited and selfless way.

Life in the Highlands. You couldn’t make it up.





Author — John Macpherson

John MacPherson was born and lives in the Scottish Highlands. He trained as a welder in the Glasgow shipyards, before completing an apprenticeship as a carpenter, and then qualified as a Social Worker in Disability Services. Along the way he has cooked on canal barges, trained as an Alpine Ski Leader & worked as an Instructor for Skiers with disabilities, been a canoe instructor, and tutor of night classes in carpentry, stained glass design and manufacture, and archery. He has travelled extensively on various continents, undertaking solo trips by bicycle, or motorcycle. He has had narrow escapes from an ambush by terrorists, been hit by lightning, caught in an erupting volcano, trapped in a mobile home by a tornado, kidnapped by a dog's hairdresser, rammed by a basking shark and was once bitten by a wild otter. He has combined all this with professional photography, which he has practised for over 35 years. He teaches photography and acts as a photography guide & tutor in the UK and abroad. His biggest challenge is keeping his 30 year old Land Rover 110 on the road. He loves telling and hearing stories.

Discussion (4 Comments)

  1. Manja Maksimovi? says:

    More at ease now. Somehow the world as you tell it is still as it ought to be all over.

    • John MacPherson says:

      Thanks Manja! This part of the world still has areas where helping is the preferred option rather than hating or hindering. Which I applaud.

  2. Farhiz says:

    Great story (as opposed to yarn which would have been a so much more appropriate word to use) and terrific pic.

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